Work Health and Safety (Representative Assistance) Amendment Bill 2017.

Wednesday 13 April 2017
Second reading speech

Bills

WORK HEALTH AND SAFETY (REPRESENTATIVE ASSISTANCE) AMENDMENT BILL

Introduction and First Reading

            The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (16:12): Introduced a bill for an act to amend the Work Health and Safety Act 2012. Read a first time.

Second Reading  

 

Hon T.A. FRANKS (16:14):  I move:

            That this bill be now read a second time.

The Greens have a strong record, not just in the state of South Australia but across the nation, in standing up for worker safety and strengthening workplace safety laws. The Greens played a key role in ensuring that the work health and safety laws passed in 2012, which stalled for almost a year after its original introduction. The Work Health and Safety Act 2012 seeks to ensure that our nation has one set of consistent, occupational health and safety laws so that employers and workers do not have to work with eight different sets of workplace safety laws, and so that regulation is as strong as it can be.

 In light of this, I introduce today the Work Health and Safety (Representative Assistance) Amendment Bill 2017. This bill amends section 68 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2012 to bring it into harmonisation with work health and safety legislation in all other Australian jurisdictions. By way of background, section 68 of the act relates to the powers and functions of health and safety representatives and, as the act currently stands, it is difficult for safety representatives to exercise those powers and functions.

 This particular clause narrows the scope of the act so that a union representative is not able to assist a health and safety representative in light of a workplace incident. The Greens believe that a health and safety representative should be entitled to receive representation from the union or any representative that they choose to assist them to perform their powers and functions under the act. To clarify this I would like to read out the relevant clauses related to the model bill and the South Australian act.

 Model bill provisions: section 68 of the model bill provides a health safety representative can seek assistance from any person whenever necessary in exercising a power or carrying out of function under the legislation. Section 68 of the model bill states:

                                                                 (2)      In exercising a power or performing a function, the health and safety representative may…

                                                                            (g)                whenever necessary, request the assistance of any person.

Section 68 of the model bill does not provide any definition or restriction of the term 'any person'. Accordingly, there are no limitations on the types or categories of people from whom assistance can be sought. South Australia's provisions, by contrast, as per the model bill, section 68(2) of the South Australian Work Health and Safety Act, provide that a health safety representative (HSR) can seek assistance from that 'any person':

                                                                                      (2)      In exercising a power or performing a function, the health and safety representative may…

                                                                            (g)                whenever necessary, request the assistance of any person.

However, section 68(4) goes on to define 'any person' in the following terms:

            Subsection (2)(g) does not extend beyond—      (a)           a person who works at the workplace; or

(b)           a person who is involved in the management of the relevant business or undertaking; or

(c)            a consultant who has been approved by—

(i)             the Consultative Council; or

(ii)            a health and safety committee that has responsibilities in relation to the work group that the health and safety representative represents; or

(iii)           the person conducting the business or undertaking at the workplace or the person's representative.

As a result, the South Australian Work Health and Safety Act limits the people and organisations from which a health and safety representative can request assistance. In particular, the amendments to section 68 frustrate the capacity of a health and safety representative to receive advice and assistance from a union in discharging their responsibilities under the Work Health and Safety Act.

 I note that, in addition to being out of step with all other Australian jurisdictions, section 68 is at odds with the very objectives of the WHS act, in particular, section 3(1)(b), as it denies health and safety representatives assistance from unions. This does not allow for fair and effective workplace representation and consultation in the resolution of safety matters. Section 68 does not encourage unions to take a constructive role in promoting improvements in workplace practices and assisting employers and workers to achieve a healthy and safer working environment and, therefore, is at odds with section 3(1)(d) of the act.

 Section 68 as it currently stands is unnecessary, counter-productive and out of step with the rest of Australia's workplace safety laws. The Greens propose the changes to section 68 because the act needs to be brought in line with other jurisdictions to allow safety representatives to be properly assisted and supported in their role. With those words, I commend the bill to the council.

            Debate adjourned on motion of Hon. J.S.L. Dawkins.

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